Happy Days

Wilfred Massey’s three-act farce Happy Days concerns Reggie Blougham (pronounced Bloom) and his fiancée Leslie Royston, ‘who, as all fiancées should be, is young, very pretty and very charmingly dressed’. The third character in the triangle is Ruth Eltringham, who is ‘three years younger than Leslie, equally pretty, but in a fluffy, irresponsible way’, and who has a habit of throwing herself at men ‘with much sinuosity of the hips’ in a way that ‘would gain her admittance into Hollywood with no questions asked’. For reasons that are as unimportant as they are complicated, the two girlfriends are going to stay in Reggie’s flat while he spends the night with his upstairs neighbor, the artist Jimmy Harbottle.

Reggie is an idle young man who is dependent on the good will of an uncle who holds his inheritance in trust until he turns thirty. Unfortunately for him, by the terms of his mother’s will he’ll only be paid an allowance if he can prove he has done some work, so he writes the occasional piece, such as an essay about a happy home life that he recently submitted to a newspaper competition. Even more unfortunately, the uncle has ideas about whom he should marry, won’t approve of Leslie, and has threatened to cut off the allowance altogether if Reggie doesn’t get engaged to the ugly, foul-tempered daughter of an industrialist. Most unfortunately of all, the competition essay has won the first prize of five hundred pounds – so long as Reggie can demonstrate that everything in it is completely true, and that he really has a Happy Home with a Happy Little Wife. ‘We have to guard against dishonest people who might enter the competition purely for the sake of the prize money,’ explains the paper’s elderly emissary. If he wants the cash, he has to produce the Happy Little Wife. But Leslie has gone out and Ruth has already been introduced as not the wife, so Reggie has to think quickly. The first woman through the door is thrust into the role of Happy Little Wife: Twinky Farrell, an artist’s model who has been posing for Jimmy.

Next morning, at the top of the second act, Ruth is still not yet dressed (‘whatever is permissible’, says the stage direction) when she starts teasing Leslie with the suggestion that she is jealous of Twinky, and we get the first sign of where their relationship is headed: ‘My child,’ says Leslie, ‘There are times when I positively ache to lay violent hands on you!’ She makes a rush for Ruth, but a quick apology forestalls the immediate risk of ‘summary vengeance’ administered upon the seat of whatever is permissible. But despite all her denials, Leslie is jealous. And as the act goes on, she gets something more to be jealous about.

When the Daily Comet reporter arrives to interview Reggie and his Happy Little Wife, Leslie has stepped out again, and Twinky is still up in Jimmy’s flat, so Ruth is taken to be the Happy Little Wife – and if she isn’t, Reggie risks being sued for fraudulent misrepresentation, so they play along, unaware that Leslie is outside the door listening to them as they make mutual declarations of love. The interview comes to an end and the reporter leaves them enjoying a long, passionate kiss – whereupon Leslie loses her temper. A mêlée follows, with Jimmy (who has grown fond of Ruth) remonstrating with Reggie while Leslie confronts Ruth:

LESLIE: What you want is a jolly good smacking!!

RUTH: Oh yes?

LESLIE: And for two pins I’d give you one.

RUTH: You and who else?

LESLIE: Me and nobody else!!!

RUTH: If you could!!

LESLIE: I’ll show you whether I could.

Bangs down onto settee, pulls Ruth over her knees and begins to spank her.

RUTH: Oh!! Ow!! … OW!! Let me go! LET ME GO YOU BIG BULLY!! … OW!! OW!!! You big bully! Stop it!

LESLIE: This will teach you, you little –

There is wildest pandemonium. Leslie is slapping Ruth, Ruth is screaming at the top of her voice.

And with that, the Editor of the Daily Comet walks in. ‘So this is the Happy Little Home,’ he says – and the curtain falls.

The third act begins with a still tableau of the moment where the second left off, with, among other things, Leslie’s hand ‘uplifted in the act of slapping Ruth’. They are looking in frozen silence at the Editor, all except Ruth, who is facing the wrong way across Leslie’s knees and is still protesting: ‘You big bully! Let me go!’ Leslie releases her, and she declares, ‘You’ll be sorry for this, you – !’ She’s cut short by the Editor, who turns out to be a friend of the family and has known her since she was born – and knows she isn’t Reggie’s wife. He also knows that Twinky doesn’t have that honor, having hitherto employed her professional services as a model. Which means that the Happy Little Wife must be Leslie! Reggie still feels the need to explain:

REGGIE: About Ruth. She’s a friend of Leslie’s.

RUTH: You mean I was a friend of Leslie’s!

REGGIE: She – er, she’s staying here.

EDITOR: I see. (To Leslie.) Do you always treat her like that when she stays with you?

LESLIE: Oh, no. I – I’m terribly sorry! I –

EDITOR: Oh, don’t apologise. Knowing Ruth as I do, I’m quite sure she deserved it.

RUTH: Oh, are you? Well, I’ll make you sorry for that crack, anyhow.

EDITOR: Oh! How?

RUTH: Next time you come to see daddy I’ll lock up every single drop of the old port – and throw away the key!

And off she goes in a huff. After some pleasant conversation, the Editor is still understandably uncertain about awarding the prize: ‘I come into what is claimed to be the ideal Happy Home, and what do I find? A scene of indescribable confusion, everybody quarrelling, my oldest friend’s daughter being unmercifully beaten…’ Leslie pleads: ‘No, really – I wasn’t unmercifully beating her – only spanking her for being naughty –’ The Editor accepts this and hands over the cheque – whereupon the other newspaper employees turn up, each of them thinking a different girl is the Happy Little Mrs Blougham.

Luckily the Editor is eventually persuaded to see the funny side, and agrees that Reggie can keep the prize money if he marries Leslie immediately by special licence – the paper can hold off publishing the story until it has become true. Everyone makes up. ‘I’m sorry I smacked you, darling,’ says Leslie. ‘So am I,’ replies Ruth, ‘but I’ll forgive you.’ And so the play ends with everyone drinking a toast: ‘HAPPY DAYS!

The script was first published in the journal Amateur Stage in April 1935, six months before it could be legally performed in Britain – it wasn’t licensed by the Lord Chamberlain until October 22. It then premiered in Leeds eleven days later at the Pudsey Sunday School on November 2, 1935 (which was a Saturday). It quickly proved a hit with amateur companies, and was later said to be ‘record-breaking’. If we single out one other early production, by the Kent-based Hayes Players in February 1937, it is for one very pertinent reason:

Happy Days Hayes Players 1937

Happy Days found its way to some unexpected places in the course of its life. It managed to cross the Atlantic for a high school production in Iowa in 1939, and twenty years later, in 1959, it was professionally produced at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool. Soon after that its history becomes a little harder to trace: after 1962, amdram companies doing Happy Days might be putting on the Samuel Beckett play about a woman buried up to her neck in sand, and from 2007 onwards there is also the musical version of the popular television sitcom set in the 1950s. But the Wilfred Massey comedy soldiered on until the mid-1980s, and still makes an occasional appearance amidst the young pretenders to its title. In May 2013 it turned up in Sweden, in an English-language production by the Gothenburg Drama Group:

Happy Days 2013 Gothenburg 904788_195658080558036_522613301_o

Ruth was played by Sanne Anderson, seen here persuading the Daily Comet reporter that she is Reggie’s Happy Little Wife…

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… and here paying the price at the hands of Michaela Celeste Pascoe in the role of Leslie:

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When the play first appeared in print in Amateur Stage, it was accompanied with some comments from the author, Wilfred Massey. What he had to say about the character of Ruth seems, to a modern reader of the play, a little less than fair:

Wasn’t she awful? It only goes to show that a few good swift ones with the back of a hairbrush in early girlhood are well-advised.

I have no problem with Ruth getting a good spanking in her early womanhood – in fact, I like her all the more for it, and I think ‘awful’ is rather strong. Attitudes to agreeably cheeky young women must have softened since the 1930s!

In the Photographer’s Studio (19)

On our previous visits to Vancouver, it has come to our attention that the glamor model Riannaconda…

Uncle M 01 Riannaconda Uncle M 02 Riannaconda

… has been spanking her fellow glamor models in shoots for various different photographers.

You are naughty, Riannaconda!

Uncle M 03 Riannaconda

Meet Teresa Marie…

Uncle M 04 Teresa Marie

… who knows what happens to naughty girls!

Uncle M 05 Riannaconda

But does she know a pillow is not an ideal spanking implement?

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Yes, she does!

They were shooting for this week’s photographer, who goes by the name of Uncle M, and like Riannaconda he’s based in Vancouver. He’s an amateur (even the models are unpaid) and his main interest is in bondage. But he does it in a style that he describes as ‘Vargas meets Norman Rockwell’, combining aspects of pin-up with folksy life imagery that dilutes the heavy fetish dimension and gives it a broader appeal. His website notes:

‘All of the models Uncle M works with have full lives and model for him for the love of the art. The bondage is real, the expressions genuine. Bondage that is fun, sexy and a true form of art.’

In particular, he follows a strict policy of featuring no nudity, sex or violence. Luckily for us, he doesn’t believe ‘violence’ covers spanking.

Uncle M 08

I don’t often care for spanking photographs that include elements of bondage. Partly it’s because I’d rather see the spanker control the girl using his own strength, instead of resorting to restraints. It’s also partly, I guess, because a lot of second-rate commercial fetish photography tries to throw in aspects of multiple fetishes in order to appeal to as many market areas as possible, and thereby ends up not appealing very much to any of them.

But Uncle M’s work is different, because it has a clear center and focus. What he likes is old-fashioned rope bondage. Everything else is secondary. All the photographs have a plain background, to throw attention onto the foreground action. All the situations he depicts are a means to give variety to the core act of showing a girl tied up. And that sometimes means a side-order of spanking, often in ‘pin-up style’.

But there are practical problems with mixing bondage and spanking, if the girl in bondage is not the one being spanked…

Uncle M 09

The next sequence solves that one nicely. The models are hard to identify, because they are credited inconsistently. The girl who’s giving the spanking, for example, is given the monicker ‘Sixx’, but is actually the actress Jodii Grono. The girl on the receiving end works under the name ‘Miss Helen’ but her real name seems to be Mila.

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We may well ask how ‘Miss Helen’ got to be in this predicament in the first place: Jodii certainly didn’t put her across her knee. But isn’t that always the way with pin-up? The image itself takes precedence over the scenario that led to it. And let’s face it, they are very nicely done images!

If you are interested in Uncle M’s work, please visit his online portfolio.

Decision at Sundown

This is a 1957 western directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott. Scott plays Bart Allison who arrives in the town of Sundown looking for revenge after three years of searching for a man named Tate Kimbrough. It’s not clear at first why exactly Bart wants revenge, though it’s hinted that it might have something to do with Bart’s deceased wife, Mary.

Kimbrough is getting married to local girl Lucy (Karen Steele) but Bart breaks up the wedding much to Lucy’s embarrassment. When Lucy suggests that Mary may have been a less than virtuous woman, she is left with more embarrassment to get over!

Scene starts at 46m 35s

Karen Steele’s first acting job was in the radio series Let George Do It (1946 – 54). In this detective comedy Bob Bailey played George Valentine, a World War II veteran returned from the war, who advertises his services as an odd job man.

Bob Bailey

The ad reads:

PERSONAL NOTICE: Do you have a crime that needs solving? Do you have a dog that needs walking? Do you have a wife that needs spanking? Let George do it. Danger’s my stock-in-trade. If the job’s too tough for you to handle, you’ve got a job for me, George Valentine. Write FULL Details.

Postwar wives

This reflects the reality of the post war period in the US when there was a recorded upsurge in “wife spankings” attributed to returning soldiers. Thanks to JS for sending me the newspaper scan.

Le Médecin Malgré Lui in Western Europe

This week we continue our occasional series following the peregrinations of Moliere’s comedy outside of its native France. For a general account of the play and some examples of its appearances behind the former Iron Curtain, look here. In this installment, we have a selection of productions from Western Europe, where, regrettably, the scene is less often staged as an OTK spanking than in the east of the continent. But never mind, at least there are still several versions that are closer to spanking than beating. Let’s begin in…

Belgium

The play was produced at Spa in August 2014, with Andre Bodart as Sganarelle and Pascale Bonarens (who is also the theater company’s artistic director) getting her bottom whacked as Martine:

Medecin 2014 Spa

Germany

This next one is from Halle in 2011, and I can’t say I’m 100% sure it is actually the spanking scene… but it is Sganarelle (Hilmar Eichhorn) and Martine (Petra Ehlert), and she does seem to be having a less than happy time of it while horizontal:

Medecin 2011 Germany Buehnen Halle

Greece

First up, here’s a 2012 touring production by the Theatro Thessaliko company:

Medecin 2012 Greece tour Theatro Thessaliko

And from 2013:

Italy

First, to Rome in 2011. In case the bit with the broomstick worries you, relax and watch on:

And now to a theater festival at Civitanova in October 2014, where, just for once, Martine got what was indisputably a spanking:

Medecin 2014 Italy

Spain

We enter Spain from the north, stopping at Olite in the Pyrenees in July 2013 to see Luis Miguel Izuriaga chastise Adela Guillermo:

Medecin 2013 Olite 2Medecin 2013 Olite

Also staged during that month was this production at Valencia:

And finally, from 2014, something that may be either a conclusion or a preview: Angela Peña gets her bottom walloped by Arnaldo Ravagli :

The status of this rendition is uncertain because it’s not entirely clear whether it comes from Spain itself or (as I suspect) one of the Spanish-speaking countries on the other side of the Atlantic … and that’s where this series will be going next, with a bit more OTK than this time for us purists to enjoy.

In the Photographer’s Studio (18)

Austin Young is based in Los Angeles. Unlike a lot of the photographers in this series, his work rarely draws its inspiration from feminine beauty; on the contrary, he is noted for his pictures documenting the West Coast’s drag and transgender scene. But a commission in 2009 resulted in something that seems to be unique in his portfolio: a spanking photograph.

The objective was to publicize a forthcoming art exhibition at LA’s World of Wonder gallery: Bettie Page: Heaven Bound … so the subject matter was almost self-selecting!

And now let’s meet the models. Here’s Lenora Claire:

Austin Young lenoranewheadshot

And here’s Lenora Claire:

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(Yes, you did read that right,)

And here’s Lenora Claire, dressed as Bettie Page, being spanked by … herself!

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An intermittent theme in this series is how to do a spanking shoot with limited resources: we’ve had F/F switch shoots, we’ve had lone models spanked by inanimate objects … but this is the first time Photoshop has played a decisive part in the creation of the image, to turn one model into two.

Lenora was the curator of the Bettie Page exhibition, and later enthusiastically described the photo session, which took place on April 15, 2009:

‘I absolutely love working with Austin. Everything about the shoot was hilarious. Designer Marco Marco who created my outfit stood in for the Bettie Lenora so I knew about where my spanking hand should go for the first shot before it got superimposed with the Lenora Bettie. I had to bite the inside of my cheek to die from laughing. It’s really hard to make a risque shot like that come off the right way but I knew Austin would find the right balance between glamor and humor. He’s absolutely amazing.’

If you are interested in Austin’s absolutely amazing work, please visit his website.

L’assommoir d’ Émile Zola

Assommoir2L’Assommoir (1877) is the seventh novel in Émile Zola’s twenty-volume series Les Rougon-Macquart. Considered one of his masterpieces, the study of alcoholism and poverty in the working-class districts of Paris was a huge commercial success and established Zola’s fame and reputation throughout France and the world.

It tells the story of Gervaise  who runs away to Paris with her shiftless lover Lantier to work as a washerwoman in a hot, busy laundry.

Thanks to Maria White and Harry  for their help with this post.

*****

Scene: Paris, 1850: a public washhouse. Enter Virginie Poisson, the local shrew, who hates the club-footed Gervaise.

Suddenly Mme Boche cried out:

“Goodness, if it isn’t that great tall Virginie! She is actually coming here to wash her rags tied up in a handkerchief.”

Gervaise looked up quickly. Virginie was a woman about her own age, larger and taller than herself, a brunette and pretty in spite of the elongated oval of her face. She hesitated a moment in the center aisle and half shut her eyes, as if looking for something or somebody, but when she distinguished Gervaise she passed close by her with her nose in the air, insolently swaying her hips, and finally established herself only a short distance from her.

Gervaise made a show of keeping her back to Virginie. But she could hear sniggering, and was conscious of her sidelong glances. Virginie, in fact, seemed to have come there to provoke her, and when Gervaise turned around the two women stared hard at one another.

Mme Boche whispered in her gruff voice, “Look at her over there, she’s laughing ’cause you’re crying — the heartless little cat!”

A wild tempest of rage shook Gervaise from head to foot. She stooped with her arms extended, as if feeling for something . . . then snatched up a bucket of soapsuds and threw it at Virginie.

“Bitch!” screamed Virginie. She’d jumped back, so only her boots were wet. All the women in the washhouse hurried to the scene of action. They jumped up on the benches, some with a piece of bread in their hands, others with a bit of soap, and a circle of spectators was soon formed.

“Oh! The bitch” repeated Virginie. “What has got into the fool?” Gervaise stood motionless, her face convulsed and lips apart. The other continued:

“Just look at her, she’s sick of fucking the provinces, soldiers had her for a mattress by the time she was twelve, she’s left a leg back home there. Rotted away it did!”

The women laughed. Virginie, emboldened by her success, went on in a louder and more triumphant tone:

“Come a little nearer, and I will soon settle you. You’d have been better off in the country. It is lucky for you that your dirty soapsuds only went on my feet, for I would have taken you over my knees, pulled up your skirts, and given you a good spanking if one drop had gone in my face. What is the matter with her, anyway?” And big Virginie addressed her audience: “Make her tell what I have done to her! Say! Trollop, what harm have I ever done to you?”

“You had best not talk so much,” answered Gervaise almost inaudibly; “you know very well where my husband was seen last night. Shut your trap or I’ll strangle you for sure .”

“Her husband, she says! Her husband! Madame’s husband! As if she could catch a husband with a bandy leg like hers! Is it my fault if he’s dumped you? . . .”

The laughter began again. Gervaise, in a low, concentrated voice, repeated:

“You know very well–you know very well! Your sister–yes, I will strangle your sister!”

“Oh yes, I understand,” answered Virginie. “Strangle her if you choose. What do I care? . . .”

Big Virginie turned away, but after five or six angry blows with her paddle she began again:

“Yes, it is my sister, and the two adore each other. You should see them bill and coo together. He has left you with these dirty-faced bastards . . .”

“Bitch, bitch, bitch!” screamed Gervaise, beside herself, once more trembling uncontrollably.

She turned and groped on the ground again; seeing nothing, finding only the small tub of bluing water, she threw that in Virginie’s face.

“The slut! She’s ruined my dress!” shrieked Virginie, whose shoulder and one hand were dyed a deep blue. “Just you wait, you shit!” she added as she, in her turn, snatched up a pail and emptied it over the young woman. At that point, a battle royal began . . . Soon it was impossible to keep track of the score. Both were shivering and streaming with water from head to foot, their bodices sticking to their backs, their skirts clinging to their buttocks .

The laundresses were immensely amused, and applauded as if at a theater .  Suddenly Virginie discovered a bucket of scalding water standing a little apart; she caught it and threw it upon Gervaise. There was an exclamation of horror from the lookers-on. Gervaise escaped with only one foot slightly burned, but exasperated by the pain, she threw a tub with all her strength at the legs of her opponent. Virginie fell to the ground .

The battle began again, this time silent and wordless and literally tooth and nail .  It was on Gervaise that the first blood was drawn. Three long scratches from her mouth to her throat bled profusely, and she closed her eyes with each attack, lest she have an eye put out.. As yet Virginie was not bleeding. Suddenly Gervaise seized one of her earrings–pear-shaped, of yellow glass–she pulled, the ear split, and blood began to flow .

Both women lay on the ground. Suddenly Virginie struggled up to her knees. She’d just picked up one of the paddles and was brandishing it. Her voice was hoarse and low as she muttered:

“This will be as good for you as for your dirty linen!”

Gervaise, in her turn, snatched another paddle, which she held like a club. Her voice also was hoarse and low.

“I will beat your skin,” she muttered, “as I would my coarse towels.”

They knelt in front of each other in utter silence for at least a minute, with hair streaming, eyes glaring and nostrils distended. They each drew a long breath.

Gervaise struck the first blow, with her paddle glancing off Virginie’s shoulder. And then she flung herself sideways to escape Virginie’s weapon, which brushed her hip.

Thus started, they struck each other as laundresses strike their linen, vigorously, rhythmically. When a blow landed on flesh, it sounded muffled, as if it had landed in a tub of water .

Suddenly Gervaise gave a howl. Virginie had hit her with all her might on her bare arm, above the elbow; a red patch appeared and immediately began to swell. She hurled herself at Virginie; the spectators thought she meant to kill her. “Stop! Stop!” they cried. But her face was so terrifying that no one dared go near.

gervaise4

With almost superhuman strength she seized Virginie round the waist and forced her over so her face was pushed down onto the flagstones and her bottom was in the air; despite her struggles, Gervaise pulled her skirts all the way up. Underneath were drawers. Slipping her hand into the slit, she tore them off, exposing bare thighs and bare buttocks. Then Gervaise raised her paddle and began to beat .  Each smack of the paddle fell on the soft flesh with a wet thud, leaving a scarlet mark .

The women were laughing again by this time, but soon the cry began again of “Enough! Enough!”

Gervaise didn’t hear, didn’t tire. Keeping her eyes on her work, she bent low over it, determined not to miss one single spot. She wanted every inch of this flesh beaten, beaten and scarlet with shame. And she began to sing, full of ferocious gaiety, as she remembered an old washer-woman’s song:

Bang! Bang! Magpie’s wash she’s thwacking,

Bang! Bang! With her paddle smacking,

Bang! Bang! Pain after sinning,

Bang! Bang! Here’s a beginning.

And she went on: “This one’s for you, this one’s for your sister, this one’s for Lantier. Mind you give it ‘em when you see ‘em. Wait! I’ve not finished. This one’s for Lantier, that for your sister, and this one’s for you!

Pan! Pan! Margot au lavoir!

Pan! Pan! a coups de battoir . . .

Maria Schell in Gervaise

They had to drag Virginie out of her grasp. The tall brunette, weeping and sobbing, her face scarlet with mortification, grabbed her washing and fled, defeated.

*****

Three weeks later, about half-past eleven one fine sunny morning, Gervaise and Coupeau, the tinworker, were eating some brandied fruit at Pere Colombe’s Tavern, known as L’Assommoir . . .

“Oh, you are none too amiable. You beat people sometimes, I have heard.”

She laughed gaily.

Yes, it was true she had beaten up that great hulking Virginie. That day she could have strangled someone with a glad heart. She began laughing even more when Coupeau recounted that Virginie was so mortified at having displayed everything she’d got, she’d left the neighborhood.

*****

One Saturday Gervaise had hard work. It had rained for three days, and all the mud of the streets seemed to have been brought into the shop. Virginie stood behind the counter with collar and cuffs trimmed with lace. Near her on a low chair lounged Lantier, and he was, as usual, eating candy.

“Really, Madame Coupeau,” cried Virginie, “can’t you do better than that? You have left all the dirt in the corners. Don’t you see? Oblige me by doing that over again.”

Gervaise obeyed. She went back to the corner and scrubbed it again. She was on her hands and knees, with her sleeves rolled up over her arms. Her old skirt clung close to her stout form, and the sweat poured down her face.

“The more elbow grease you put into it, the more it shines,” said Lantier sententiously with his mouth full.

Virginie, leaning back in her chair with the air of a princess, followed the progress of the work with half-closed eyes.

“A little more to the right. Remember, those spots must all be taken out. Last Saturday, you know, I wasn’t all that pleased.”

And they both put on an even more majestic air, as if they were on thrones, while Gervaise dragged herself about at their feet in the black mud. Virginie must have been enjoying herself, for her cat’s eyes sparkled with malicious joy, and she glanced at Lantier with a little smile. Yes, now she had her revenge for that mortification in the wash-house, that paddling she’d never ever been able to forget!

*****

In the 1956 film, based on L’Assommoir, Gervaise was played by Maria Schell while Virginie was played by Suzy Delair. Just as in the book, Gervaise pulls down Virginie’s drawers and exposes her buttocks before beating her with a paddle.  Delair’s bare bottom actually belongs to a body double who was a dancer at the Crazy Horse Saloon with the typically bizarre stage name of Rita Cadillac… and a wonderfully photogenic backside!

606px-Rita_cadillac

Émile Zola’s son and  great-grandaughter, Brigit, watched the spanking scene being filmed but it was too much for the US censor who cut it out.

As a little girl of about ten I had accompanied my grandfather Jacques on the set of Gervaise and had seen the different rehearsals of the famous “spanking” scene. Maria Schell played Gervaise; my grandfather was pleased to note that she represented the character of Gervaise well, physically and psychologically. He chatted with her, and I was all ears.

It was reinstated for the DVD release which featured a drawing of the scene on the cover.

Gervaise
There have been numerous stage productions of Zola’s novel.  The famous impresario Augustin Daly produced a version in New York just a couple of years after the book was first published, and in Paris a 1900 production caused quite a stir when a large billboard went up featuring the paddling scene .

Skipping  forward the best part of one hundred years to the north of England, a version of L’Assommoir was performed under the title A Working Woman at the West Yorkshire playhouse in  November 1992.

It was adapted by Stephen Wyatt and the script includes the fight in the laundry with a few interesting variations. Virginie is bent over an ironing board and the paddling is sound tracked by can-can music.  In one important respect the scene follows the book though;  Gervaise pulls down Virginie’s drawers!

*****

A Working WomanVirginie enters with a token quantity of washing. She walks slowly down past Gervaise, smiling, and then back up to a place with the other washer women.

Mme B:  Hey, Virginie, what are you doing here?

Virginie pulls a couple of other women into a huddle for a whisper. Her face is full of malicious amusement.

 Mme B: (looking at her) I reckon she’s only come here to gloat. She knows all about it, you can bet your life. She’s going to run straight home and tell them how you’ve taken it.

 A burst of laughter from Virginie and her friends. Gervaise turns to face Virginie. Virginie is aware of her gaze.

 Virginie: (to her friends) I think Lantier prefers women with two legs.

Gervaise picks up the bucket and throws the water at her.

Virginie: You bitch!

 The whole washhouse is silent now. Virginie turns angrily.

 Virginie: So what made you do that then, you lop-sided cow?

Gervaise: (hotly) As if you didn’t know.

Virginie: It’s not me that’s taken your precious husband. Anyone here found Madame’s husband? I’m sure she’ll offer a reward.

Gervaise: He’s gone with your sister, you know bloody well.

Virginie: And who can blame him?

Gervaise: You cow, you bloody cow!

She attacks Virginie. The two women roll across the floor fighting while the other women encourage them and beat their buckets and boards excitedly.

Mme B: (to Charles) Someone ought to stop them.

Charles:  (grinning) Not me love. Best show I’ve seen in years.

Gervaise grabs Viginie’s ear and pulls her earring off. Verginie screams at the pain then grabs Gervaise and wrenches her arm savagely behind her back. Triumphantly she claims victory. But Gervaise comes up behind her and forces her over one of the ironing boards. She grabs a wooden beater from one of the other women, pulls down Virginie’s drawers and starts to beat her.

 Gervaise: I’ll tan your arse for you! You won’t sit down for a week!

The other women roar approval and dance mockingly round the beating to can-can music. Finally Gervaise, exhausted and satisfied, throws down the beater. Virginie crawls away sobbing with humiliation. The others congratulate Gervaise and then start to leave. Gervaise stands there, the excitement of her moment of triumph seeping from her.

In  the 1992 West Yorkshire Playhouse production, Gervaise was played by Kate Gartside ,

Kate Gartside

and Christabelle Dilks went across the ironing board!

Christabelle Dilks

Laura and the Jacques

Laura has committed adultery and tells her husband Jacques that she wants to leave him to live with her lover. How will he react? Gabriel Arout’s 1963 comedy Laure et Les Jacques handles this theme in a distinctive way, by playing out the situation with four different husbands, each played by a different actor, each with a different personality and temperament. The first Jacques is forgiving, the second manipulative, and the third infatuated and disbelieving. It is Jacques 4 who most concerns us…

The play premiered at the Theatre Saint-Georges, Paris, on December 19, 1963. Laura was played by 27-year-old Geneviève Fontanel:

01 Genevieve Fontanel

Jacques 4 was Jess Hahn, a giant of an actor who later played Simon Templar’s sidekick Hoppy in the 1966 French outing for the classic Leslie Charteris hero, Le Saint Prend L’Affût (The Saint Lies in Wait). It’s a movie we know best for the fate that befalls the spoilt heroine, played by Danielle Evenou, seen here in the fight scene at the climax…

02 Saint Prend L'Affut 09

… and here earlier on with the Saint himself, Jean Marais:

03 Saint Prend L'Affut

The scene even found its way onto the poster for the movie’s Danish release:

03a Saint Prend LAffut Danish

Less well known is another moment where she’s being recalcitrant about going to bed when she’s told, so Hoppy picks her up bodily and carries her to the bedroom…

04 Saint Prend L'Affut

… on the way giving her a good smack on the seat of those white panties:

05 Saint Prend L'Affut

So that little digression helps to establish Jess Hahn’s suitability for the task he had to undertake three years earlier on the Parisian stage!

The first three acts all begin with Laura on the telephone to her friend Suzou, explaining her dilemma.

06 Film Version

But when the curtain rises on the fourth and final act, things are different. We begin not with Laura but Jacques 4, who is, says the stage direction, very big, athletic and powerful. He may be a violent man, but he has channeled all his violence into love of Laura. So when an incriminating letter arrives for her, she gets a slap which knocks her off her feet. In all other respects he is utterly calm: he is determined to remain collected and not jump jealously to conclusions that might be mistaken. But of course, they’re not mistaken: she tells him they will have to separate, so he reads the letter. And that’s it: he starts to devastate the room in a kind of controlled fury. Then he half tears off her dress…

07 Laure

She’s like a child, he tells her – except that children get whooping cough, whereas she has caught the adult disease of adultery. But he has the cure for it:

08 Laure fessee

Il la saisit, l’étale sur les genoux et lui administre une fessée magistrale, malgré ses cris et ses plaintes.

(He seizes her, lays her across his knees and gives her a masterful spanking in spite of her cries and pleas.)

Then there is a knock at the door. He gets up, letting Laura fall off his lap onto the floor. It’s a delivery: a bouquet of roses for her. He explains that what she needed was a shock. In this situation, other men might behave in a more ‘civilized’ way – like Jacques 1-3, in fact – but they don’t really love their women. But he has done everything for love of her: ‘Like a child asking for a spanking, you need to be reassured, to be shown I love you.’ She protests that in his destructive frenzy he hasn’t left her a thing to wear. But he has: quite deliberately, the one garment he left untouched is her wedding dress.

09 Laure

And so the final act ends as all the others began, with Laura talking on the phone to Suzou. Jacques has torn up all her clothes and spanked her, she explains.

10 Laure

Should Suzou call the police? Absolutely not! Laura isn’t going to leave Jacques after all: she loves him, and he in turn has proven that he loves her. In fact, this has been a marriage saved by a good spanking!

Un peu pincée, puis extrêmement fessée, Geneviève Fontanel est une gentille Laure,’ wrote one of the critics. (A little pinched, then very soundly spanked, Geneviève Fontanel is a nice Laura.) And Jess Hahn’s performance does indeed seem to have been very vigorous indeed: another reviewer, in Le Figaro, described how he ‘picked her up like a feather and gave her the most formidable spanking that you can possibly give a woman to cure her of adultery’!

The play was a success in several ways. In 1965, it won the prestigious Prix Brieux, presented biennially by the Académie Française. In 1967, it was made into a film, with Geneviève Fontanel recreating her role, but with a new Jacques 4, Bernard Fresson. She also starred in a retitled adaptation, Eve et Les Hommes (Eve and the Men) that was shown on French television on May 29, 1972, with John Abbey now taking on the role of the fourth cuckold.

As befits a recognized modern French classic, it has had a good run of stage revivals, too, starting in the mid-1960s when Françoise Delille played Laura…

11 Francoise Delille

More recently, Josée Bélanger was Laura at Montreal in October 2004:

12 Josee Belanger

And the play also has a life beyond the French-speaking world. It was translated early into other European languages (the Czech version by Evenie Jan was done in 1965), and it has been especially popular in the various eastern European countries of the former Soviet Union. As Quartet for Laura it was revived in Moscow in 1995, with pint-sized Nikolai Dobrynin miscast as the fourth Jacques and Lyubov Polishchuk as Laura:

13 Polishchuk

Evgenia Mikhailova was Laura in Belarus in 2004, with both Timur Isupov and Maxim Peshkov playing Jacques 4 at different performances. And another Evgenia, this one surnamed Nicolaeva, played Laura in another Russian production in 2011:

14 Evgenia Nicolaevna

There’s also a Ukrainian adaptation entitled Her Mad Men, with only three Jacques, which has been popular in Kiev since it opened in July 2009 with Elena Borokh as Laura. It toured Israel and remained in the Kiev repertory until 2013, though by then the leading lady had changed her stage name to Elena Silantyeva. Here she is as Laura:

15 Elena S Kiev

And, in case you’re wondering, she did get spanked: diligent searching has so far failed to unearth a photograph, but the scene is mentioned in reviews. It is, after all, another of those spanking scenes that can’t really be cut if you want the play to have an ending!

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